Dozens gather in Oakland to watch live feed of images of Pluto

OAKLAND, Calif. (KTVU) - It was nearly 10 years in the making as NASA shared the first clear pictures from Pluto Wednesday.

Dozens of people sat in the darkened auditorium at Oakland's Chabot Space and Science Center to watch the live feed from NASA, to see images from some three billion miles away.

"I can just say wow," said Steve Lawrence from Danville.

The wow factor is high for astronomers as well. "It's amazing to me," said Ben Burress, staff astronomer at Chabot.

The first handful of long awaited photos from the New Horizons Mission show one of Pluto's moons named Charon with fascinating detail. It has a 600-mile cliff formation leaving open the question of how the mountains were formed.

On Pluto’s surface a photo showed a mountain range 11,000 feet high.

"From the appearance the mountains may be made of solid water ice. At Pluto, it's so cold water ice can be as solid as rock," said Burress.

But perhaps most surprising is that the surface of Pluto is smooth and seems relatively new. The question scientists will be trying to learn is why.

"They are toying with a number of ideas about sources of heat, sources of energy that may power the activity," said Burress.

For those who watched the first images - it was a lifelong dream come true.

"I started looking at Pluto as a boy before they knew what it was. Now to actually see it," said Lawrence.

"It's pretty cool to see how it looks and how they got the satellite over there," said Jonathan, an 11-year-old from Fremont.

It will take months to download all the pictures and data. But it will take years for scientists to dive in and learn much more about Pluto than they know today.